by Farrell Till
During the days that the Washington, D. C., area was terrorized by the Beltway Snipers, people were outraged when a child was shot going into his school building. Later, outrage turned to horror when Montgomery County Chief Charles Moose, the leading official in the investigation, read a note from the snipers that said, "Your children are not safe anywhere at any time." Everyone wondered how anyone could be so perverse that he would actually target a school child and then threaten to shoot even more children.
Many of those who felt this outrage probably went to church the next Sunday not knowing that they were gathering to worship a god who, if we are to believe the historical accuracy of the Bible, at one time declared to seven nations that their children were not safe anywhere at any time. The threat was recorded in the book of Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy 7:1 "When Yahweh your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than you, 2and when Yahweh your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them.
Deuteronomy 20:16 "But of the cities of these peoples which Yahweh your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, 17but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as Yahweh your God has commanded you, 18lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against Yahweh your God.
The book of Joshua claims that these orders were carried out when the Israelites moved into Canaan and began their conquest of the land.
Joshua 10:31 Then Joshua passed from Libnah, and all Israel with him, to Lachish; and they encamped against it and fought against it. 32And Yahweh delivered Lachish into the hand of Israel, who took it on the second day, and struck it and all the people who were in it with the edge of the sword, according to all that he had done to Libnah. 33Then Horam king of Gezer came up to help Lachish; and Joshua struck him and his people, until he left him none remaining.
34From Lachish Joshua passed to Eglon, and all Israel with him; and they encamped against it and fought against it. 35They took it on that day and struck it with the edge of the sword; all the people who were in it he utterly destroyed that day, according to all that he had done to Lachish.
36So Joshua went up from Eglon, and all Israel with him, to Hebron; and they fought against it. 37And they took it and struck it with the edge of the sword—its king, all its cities, and all the people who were in it; he left none remaining, according to all that he had done to Eglon, but utterly destroyed it and all the people who were in it.
38Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to Debir; and they fought against it. 39And he took it and its king and all its cities; they struck them with the edge of the sword and utterly destroyed all the people who were in it. He left none remaining; as he had done to Hebron, so he did to Debir and its king, as he had done also to Libnah and its king.
40So Joshua conquered all the land: the mountain country and the South and the lowland and the wilderness slopes, and all their kings; he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as Yahweh God of Israel had commanded. 41And Joshua conquered them from Kadesh Barnea as far as Gaza, and all the country of Goshen, even as far as Gibeon. 42All these kings and their land Joshua took at one time, because the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel. 43Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.
Joshua 11:6 But Yahweh said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid because of them [the combined forces of the Canaanite nations], for tomorrow about this time I will deliver all of them slain before Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire." 7So Joshua and all the people of war with him came against them suddenly by the waters of Merom, and they attacked them. 8And Yahweh delivered them into the hand of Israel, who defeated them and chased them to Greater Sidon, to the Brook Misrephoth, and to the Valley of Mizpah eastward; they attacked them until they left none of them remaining. 9So Joshua did to them as Yahweh had told him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire.
The rest of Joshua 11 is just more of the same. Battles were fought, and everyone in the Canaanite armies and cities was "utterly destroyed" (vs:11-12, 20-21), and no one was "left alive to breathe" (v:11). Throughout these passages, the writer claimed that the Israelites were doing what their god Yahweh had commanded them and that he was actually fighting with the Israelites to ensure their victory (10:42; 11:6).
Those who believe that the Bible is "the word of God" will sometimes argue that these texts do not say that the Israelites killed children and babies. Even if these massacres had excluded children, they would have been barbaric enough, because massacres of civilian populations in time of war is morally repugnant to all civilized people today, and when such atrocities do occur, those who perpetrate them are prosecuted as war criminals. In terms of today's moral standards, then, Yahweh, the god of the ancient Hebrews and the god that all Christians and Jews worship today, was guilty of crimes against humanity. As for whether these massacres included children, the texts do say that the Israelites utterly destroyed all the people and left none alive to breathe, so unless these massacres included children and babies, the biblical writer was wrong when he said that all were killed and no one was left alive to breathe.
If defenders of the barbaric Yahweh want to quibble that the passages quoted above do not prove that children were included in the massacres, they will accomplish nothing, because there are other biblical texts that make it very clear that children and babies were massacred in the ancient Hebrew conquests. Numbers 31 claims that Yahweh ordered the Israelites to massacre the Midianites.
Numbers 31:1 And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying: 2"Take vengeance on the Midianites for the children of Israel. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people." 3So Moses spoke to the people, saying, "Arm some of yourselves for war, and let them go against the Midianites to take vengeance for Yahweh on Midian. 4A thousand from each tribe of all the tribes of Israel you shall send to the war." 5So there were recruited from the divisions of Israel one thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war. 6Then Moses sent them to the war, one thousand from each tribe; he sent them to the war with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, with the holy articles and the signal trumpets in his hand. 7And they warred against the Midianites, just as Yahweh commanded Moses, and they killed all the males. 8They killed the kings of Midian with the rest of those who were killed—Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. Balaam the son of Beor they also killed with the sword.
If this were all that was read, some might think that this isn't such a bad tale, because the Israelites killed just the males, but let's read on.
9And the children of Israel took the women of Midian captive, with their little ones, and took as spoil all their cattle, all their flocks, and all their goods. 10They also burned with fire all the cities where they dwelt, and all their forts. 11And they took all the spoil and all the booty—of man and beast.12Then they brought the captives, the booty, and the spoil to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the children of Israel, to the camp in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho. 13And Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the congregation, went to meet them outside the camp. 14But Moses was angry with the officers of the army, with the captains over thousands and captains over hundreds, who had come from the battle.
15And Moses said to them: "Have you kept all the women alive? 16Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against Yahweh in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of Yahweh. 17Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately. 18But keep alive for yourselves all the young girls who have not known a man intimately.
Here the text explicitly says that "every male among the little ones," as well as the nonvirgin females, were to be killed, and the virgin females were to be kept alive for the soldiers' use. There can be no doubt then that this story was claiming that the Israelites massacred women and children after having defeated the Midianites.
I wonder what kind of press an atrocity like this would receive from the world news media if it were to happen today after an army had defeated its enemy.
Bible believers, of course, will tie themselves into all kinds of verbal knots to make this passage not mean what it clearly says. They will argue that the virgin girls were kept alive only to be used as servants. Yeah, right! Anyone who believes that might be interested in some beachfront property that I have for sale in Timbuktu. If the virgin girls were to be used only as servants, then why kill the nonvirgin females? Just what did virginity have to do with qualifying a female to be a servant? And why kill the male children? The Old Testament speaks often of slaves that the Hebrews had, so why didn't the Israelites use these male captives as "servants" too? Why kill them? Well, if they were kept alive, they would have grown up to be wicked just like their Midianite parents, biblicists will say. Yeah, right again! The Midianites had peculiar genes that set their offspring on irreversible roads to pervasion from the moment of their birth, unlike the children of other societies who will conform to whatever cultures they may be adopted into.
Regardless of how many quibbles biblical inerrantists may resort to, one thing remains impossible to quibble around. The text quoted above clearly states that Moses ordered his officers to "kill all the males among the little ones." Hence, the children of the Midianites were not safe at this time, so that should be a situation that would be just as repugnant to people today as the Beltway snipers' note that children in the D. C. area were not safe anywhere at any time. I say that it should be just as repugnant to people today, but, of course, it won't be. People have been so indoctrinated to believe that the god they worship in their churches and synagogues is so kind, loving, and merciful that they will rationalize that what the Bible says in the texts quoted above just have to have some kind of explanation that will make the god Yahweh conform to the way they want him to be, so they will lean over backwards to grasp just any quibble that will let them hang on to their illusions.
They will resort to all sorts of verbal contortions to explain away the massacre of children that Yahweh explicitly commanded in 1 Samuel 15.
1 Samuel 15:1 Samuel also said to Saul, "Yahweh sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of Yahweh. 2Thus says Yahweh of hosts: 'I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. 3Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'"
This passage explicitly states that Yahweh commanded the infants and nursing children to be included in the massacre, and the text further along claims that Saul "utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword" (v:8). What is particularly offensive about this case is that the reason that Yahweh gave for this command was the Amalekite ambush of the Israelites when they came up from Egypt (v:2), but this attack on Israel had happened over 400 years earlier. Hence, the Bible actually claims that Yahweh commanded the genocide of an entire nation, including their children and babies, for something that their ancestors had done four centuries earlier. What was done here would be comparable to our president ordering the U. S. Army to massacre all descendants of a Native American tribe that had attacked the Jamestown settlers in the early 1600s. If such a massacre were ordered and executed, the public, including even fundamentalist Bible believers, would be morally outraged, yet they flock to their churches week after week to worship a god who, according to the Bible, once commanded a comparable massacre. Religious indoctrination has an insidious way of stripping people of their ability to reason logically.
As in the case of the massacres during the Canaanite conquests, Bible believers will resort to all kinds of excuses to try to justify the Amalekite massacre. God created life, so he has the right to take life; the Amalekites were so wicked that God had to remove them from the face of the earth; if the Amalekite children were allowed to live, they would have grown up to be wicked like their parents; God did those Amalekite children a favor by killing them at an age when they would go to heaven; and so on ad nauseam. They offer all kinds of explanations for why tales like this one are in the Bible except what is most probably the real reason so much blood and gore is in the Old Testament. The ancient Hebrews were typical of their barbaric times, so their society was a cruel one. The literature of the time shows that it was commonplace for armies to massacre entire populations in time of war and to believe that what they were doing was what their gods wanted them to do. Hence, the ones who recorded tales of atrocity like the Canaanite and Amalekite massacres presented them as acts that had been commanded and favored by their gods, whom they had created in their own barbaric images.
In reality, then, the god Yahweh, who didn't even exist, never commanded these massacres. The Hebrews committed the atrocities--if they even happened at all--and then attributed their actions to the will of their god. Bible believers, of course, can never accept this most likely explanation for these stories, and so they are left in the embarrassing position of having to stretch imagination to absurd limits in order to find some way to justify a god who would command atrocities like those noted above. Hence, they have to explain why if the warning of the Beltway snipers that children were not safe anywhere at any time was morally repugnant, the massacres of children, commanded by the god Yahweh, would not also be morally repugnant.
Perhaps they will argue that times have changed and what was morally acceptable then is not morally acceptable today, but if they take that course, they will be saying that morality is not absolute and so it changes with the times. If they do that, however, they will be saying that "God" also changes, whereas the Bible says differently: "For I am Yahweh, I do not change" (Mal. 3:6).
"Your children are not safe anywhere at any time" was a morally repugnant dictum. Those who were offended by it should be equally offended by the biblical tales that attributed disregard for children to the god they worship.